As the State writers – votes continue flooding in for our album of the decade poll, one of the few dead certs to appear has to be The Strokes’ debut, introducing the world to the New Yorkers way back in 2001. The influence of that record has reverberated down the ensuing eight years, causing the world to fall back in love with guitar music, making New York cool again and prompting a whole rake of young people to form bands. In fact the only people who didn’t benefit from the release of Is This It?, creatively at least, were the Strokes themselves. A patchy second album, poor third one and a future bashing out the oldies behind an increasingly erratic (aka pissed) Julian Casablancas on the festival circuit doesn’t seem like much of a payback.
And with yet another band hiatus has come the solo albums – two from Albert Hammond Jnr, one excellent Little Joy record from Fab Moretti and a not so good one from bassist Nicolai Fraiture. The only two members holding out were the band’s lynchpins, Julian Casablancas and Nick Valensi. Until now that is. When your singer releases his own album maybe it’s time for the alarm bells to start ringing. However – with work apparently already started on album number four – Phrazes For The Young could ironically turn out to be the best thing that has happened to the Strokes in years.
It’s certainly the best release to be associated with them for ages, Little Joy aside. Somehow, from somewhere, the member of the band who seemed most bored with the process has rediscovered his muse. It has come though from the most unlikely of places. Anyone expecting another cool as fuck guitar record would have already had those preconceptions challenged by the -11th Dimension’ single, with its unexpected but clear nod to New Order’s -Bizarre Love Triangle’. Not that Phrazes For The Young is an out and out electronic record but it sure has hell ain’t anything like his day job, which turns out to be a very good thing indeed.
The bleepy keyboard intro to -Out Of The Blue’ (and how apt is that title?) sets the tone, before a driving rhythm not that dissimilar to -Hard To Explain’ kicks in. The ‘I know I’m going to hell in a leather jacket’ lyric might suggest a sense of self-loathing but in reality Casablancas sounds happy and relaxed, for once not burying his vocal amongst a wall of effects. Second track -Left & Right In The Dark’ even marries a sunny pop tune to an eighties keyboard and drum machine vibe. Then we have -11th Dimension’ and the record seems to have set out its stall, just in time for the splendidly titled -4 Chords Of The Apocalypse’ to turn things on their head with an old school rock -n’ roll ballad that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Elvis Presley record. ‘It’s nice to be important….it’s more important to be nice’ croons Casablancas before a guitar solo worthy of Scotty Moore himself slides in, albeit over a backing of murmuring electronics. Those looking for the record’s high point could do worse than stopping off here.
From herein it’s a question of anything goes. -Ludlow St’ is a plain weird country song, complete with banjo, -Glass’ a trip-hop number, while -Tourist’ has an eastern feel, complete with brass section. Only once does the record falter, on the jarring -River Of Brake Lights’, when all these disparate elements sound, well, disparate. It’s not awful by any means but just doesn’t quite work. In fact, though, its inclusion makes the rest of the record seem even more special – a reminder that this could have been a total disaster, even a final nail in the Strokes’ coffin. As it is it breathes new life into our expectations for that fourth Strokes record, expectations that they may not be able to meet but at least we’ll be listening.